The Legislature’s Education Committee endorsed a watered-down bill Wednesday recommending later start times at Maine’s high schools.

“This is a huge public health issue,” said Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, who introduced a similar bill in 2015. “I’m going to keep working on this.”

Daughtry’s bill would have prohibited Maine high schools from starting earlier than 8:30 a.m., but the committee voted 6-4 in favor of an amended bill that says the state only “suggests” that schools adopt the later start time.

“It’s a good starting point,” Daughtry said after the vote. Lawmakers said they opposed the original bill, saying the issue is up to school districts to decide for themselves.

Several Maine school districts have already adopted later start times, citing science that has foundstudents do better academically and are healthier when start times are later.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend 8:30 a.m. or later school start times, but many Maine high schools begin their classes at 7:30 a.m. or earlier.

Health advocates point to decades of research that credits later start times with helping prevent obesity, depression, suicide and diabetes. The later start times also have helped prevent sports injuries, improved student test scores and reduced car accidents by teenage drivers. Students who got appropriate rest also were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, the CDC has reported.

The developing brain is wired differently than an adult’s. For a teenager’s brain, 7 a.m. is equivalent to 4 a.m. for an adult, according to the CDC. Also, teens need more sleep than adults, at least 8½ hours compared to seven hours for an adult. Teens’ biological clocks mean they feel sleepy later in the evening than elementary school students, which is why many teens have a difficult time falling asleep before 11 p.m.

That means teenagers, unlike adults, cannot simply go to bed earlier and still be alert at the beginning of the school day, according to the CDC.

Last fall, Biddeford High School – and other school districts like Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Yarmouth and SAD 51, which serves students in Cumberland and North Yarmouth – all moved their start times later.

“It’s clear we’re moving in this direction,” Daughtry said.

That was one reason Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, was against making it a state mandate.

“There seems to be the beginning of an organic movement,” she said, “Do we need to be weighing in? It should just be that organic movement. It takes time.”

According to the latest available CDC report on the topic, Maine’s average high school start time is 7:53 a.m., 10 minutes earlier than the national average of 8:03 a.m., and many Maine high schools start at 7:30 a.m. or earlier. Nationally, at least 200 schools have instituted later morning start times over the past few years.

At Wednesday’s work session, Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray told the lawmakers the shift had been very successful.

“It has huge benefits for kids,” Ray said.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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